Independent theater has many heroes but even more unsung ones. The splintered nature of the independent theater scene makes it difficult to truly celebrate some of its more prolific artists. The myriad theaters, companies, and even festivals, make knowing who is making a difference very difficult. You could be seeing a show on a block in Manhattan and still not be aware of all the others shows on that block. Even festivals. Go see a show with a friend in it and look in the playbill – how many people do you know in the same festival but never knew they were there!
Laurie Rae Waugh has been a power-players in NYC for near 40 years, but her humble nature and desire to simply do good work has made her one of New York’s best kept secrets.
Well, not everywhere. She is a repertory director at a theater that has been around as long as she has: the American Theatre of Actors. Representing the works of many playwrights including Jame Crafford, Irving Greenfield, Shirley Beth Newbery, and the late Steve Silver, Laurie’s signature soft-touch has given their plays a sensitivity that is engaging yet organic.
Whether it was out of humility or desire to not age herself, Ms. Waugh – in interview – “accidentally” left out the dates of her first works, but her entrance was easy to figure as she stage-managed a moment in history. Before Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, she ran the show at The Ballroom in 1987 for STAMP OUT AIDS – dedicated to Michael Bennett.
Share with us your firsts.
There have been several firsts on the acting front. My first time in an acting role in NYC came about when the late playwright, Steve Silver expanded his one-act play “The Watchtower” and turned it into a full length play. Steve wrote a character specifically for me to play. The character was his wife’s older sister, Molly McCann. I reprised the role of Molly in the film version he developed and that was also a first for me on film. Steve later wrote a one act play called “The Tiger of Greenwich Village” and he asked me to play the leading role. Steve said that he had complete faith in me to pull it off and with the help of Ken Coughlin as the director I was able to do just that.
I first got into directing through the TSI/Playtime Series where I directed 3 one-act plays. One of the plays “Rage, Inc.” by Le Wilhelm happened to be part of a group of plays that I went to see some friends in. I mentioned to the man sitting next to me that I would have to leave the theatre before the play started because I didn’t want to see how someone else staged it as I was currently in rehearsal for my vision of the same play. The funny thing was that I got to meet Mr. Wilhelm that evening and we discussed his play in depth. My next first was working with EndTime Productions for 2 years on their Vignettes for the Apocalypse and Naked Holidays NYC Series. This was a different concept for me for several reasons. We sat thru a day of auditions and then a day of call backs. We put our cast list together and had to hope that you got the cast you wanted because other directors wanted the same actors. My next first was responding to an advertisement in Backstage for directors. The ad was placed by Mr. James Jennings of the American Theatre of Actors. I had a meeting with Mr. Jennings and was given the opportunity to read many one-act plays until I found the one that I liked. The play was called “Trailer Trash Deluxe” by Laurie Allen.
My first taste of producing happened when I started a Theatre Company with two partners called Legacy Stage Ensemble. LSE was dedicated to bridging the artistic and cultural gap between experiences, training and concerns of different generations. Its productions, both original and revival, tackled topics about personal crisis and social bias. Our two productions were “The Acting Lesson” by Wesley St. John and “The Gray List” by Allan Provost. We lasted for two seasons before my two partners careers went in other directions.
When I moved to NYC in 1980 I got my first Stage Managing job for the show “Notes from The Underground” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I staged managed 21 shows in my first 7 years. The most notable one was STAMP OUT AIDS a one-night only show at The Ballroom on 7/4/87 dedicated to Michael Bennett. This was before Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.
Family is an importation factor to Ms. Waugh. Thus, she aims her director’s baton at works with a family foundation. She has mastered stage conversation so her family plays look like real families chatting.
What kind of plays are you drawn to?
I select plays that call to me. It might be the subject matter, the way in which it is written or just the dialogue that has me see a vision in my mind’s eye. Most of the plays I direct are dramas. The themes are mostly about family conflict. I have worked with a couple of playwrights on multiple projects and have gotten insights from them about why they wrote the play in the first place. The great thing is that they continue to hand me meaningful scripts to direct.
It’s that same light touch that has allowed her to take a strong place in the line-up of directors ion NYC. What was once a male-dominated industry, she stood her ground and kept getting the world to listen.
What’s it like being a woman in the arts in the (now) 21st century….and how have things changed?
When I first started doing theatre in NYC back in 1980 almost all the director’s I worked were men. I believe I only worked with one woman director. As a woman, it takes time, perseverance and the right play to stand out in a crowded indie theatre scene. It takes the help of social media, word of mouth, and publicity to put your project on top and to make you stand out from the rest. For me personally, I hired a publicist several years ago and he has been able to get my projects in the press, mostly online, and recently I participated on podcasts.
Entering the world of film, she teamed with Steve Silver some years ago to create “The Watchtower” an award-winning independent film that has since seen great acclaim and distribution. As she took many thespian-friends of the stage with her, the transition was relativity smooth.
Film or theatre……differences? If you had a choice?
The first part is an easy answer, theatre. Theatre is live, has a pulse, and anything can happen on stage. From forgetting lines to missing cues to enter or exit the stage. Props not being set in the right place, and having an actor bring props onto the stage for the next scene. With film, you get to have several takes until the final product looks the way you want it to look. You also have the benefit of utilizing different camera angles and lighting to forever capture the right moment. Theatre will always be my first love. I love to learn new things and improve upon the skills I possess. For this reason I have a desire to learn more about film production.
Stanislavsky-styled, she creates a cohesive situation among her casts/crews so that they feel respected and the process-fluid. One might say she creates a family to play a family.
What is your creative process?
My creative process evolves and changes from project to project and from cast to cast. I usually allow the actors freedom to explore their characters through the dialogue and movement around the stage. With my current project, we are spending time on some of the stage direction that the playwright has written into the script. Sometimes we have to stop and start a section a few times to make it feel fluid and realistic. I also share parts of my life with the actors so they can see a human side of how I see the character and my vision for the play.
There are about four or so spaces in New York left from the great indie theater movement that started in the late 50s. LaMama stands at the forefront with The Medicine Show still thriving, but – standing like a beacon in midtown – is the American Theatre of Actors. This is Laurie’s “home.”
Easy question as well. Mr. James Jennings has encouraged me from the beginning to be my best. He allows me to pick my own projects and he has seen every play I have directed. The environment Mr. Jennings created at ATA is very welcoming and nurturing and provides you with the ability to hone your craft. ATA is conveniently located at 314 W 54th St. in Manhattan. The ATA building contains three theatres and ample rehearsal space that we are able to utilize for everything from auditions to rehearsals and on to opening night of the show. I also get to work with very committed and talented people.
Money-driven societies always have the renegades that simply want to “do the work.”
WHY DO YOU DO IT?????
For the love of it of course. I enjoy taking a play from the written word to a piece of entertainment. Putting my spin on the production and hoping the playwright enjoys what they see. I believe it’s all about being true to the words of the playwright. I truly care about the writer’s opinion in my productions because without them I wouldn’t be directing.
And when you love it … you keep doing it.
I have three more projects in the pipeline. In November of 2019 I will be directing a one-act in a series of One Acts. The play is called “Footprints of the Polar Bear” by Phil Paradis. Early 2020, I plan to be acting in a play called “After the Lynching” by James Crafford. In spring 2020 I will be directing another play written by one of my favorite playwrights Mr. Irving Greenfield. The play is called “What do we do about Walter?”
LAURIE RAE WAUGH’S CURRENT PROJECT:
The wit of playwright Shirley Beth Newbery coupled with the steady hand of director Laurie Rae Waugh will make even the saddest occasion a joy in AFTER THE WAKE, running Wednesday – Sundays, August 7 – 18 at the Serene Sargent Theatre – part of the American Theatre of Actors complex of art-houses. Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and matinees on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets $20 at the door.
American Theatre of Actors is located at 314 W. 54th Street
New York City, 212.581.3044